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Pioneer Building (Seattle)

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The Pioneer Building is a Richardsonian Romanesque stone, red brick, terra cotta, and cast iron building located on the northeast corner of First Avenue and James Street, in Seattle's Pioneer Square District Completed in 1892, the Pioneer Building was designed by architect Elmer Fisher, who designed several of the historic district's new buildings following the Great Seattle Fire of 1889


  • 1 Location
  • 2 Design
  • 3 History
  • 4 Current use
  • 5 References
  • 6 Further reading
  • 7 External links


From Seattle's earliest days until the early 1880s, the corner of First and James was the site of Henry Yesler's home, with his steam-powered sawmill located across the way Yesler moved to his new mansion, designed by architect William E Boone, three blocks away at 4th and James in 1884 He began planning an office block at First and James in early 1889 Several months after the Great Seattle Fire leveled 32 blocks of downtown, Yesler proceeded with the construction of the Pioneer Building


The Pioneer Building is a 94-foot-tall 29 m symmetrical block, measuring 115 by 111 ft 35 by 34 m The exterior walls are constructed of Bellingham Bay gray sandstone at the basement and first floor, with red brick on the upper five floors with the exception of two stone pilasters which extended to the full height of the tower over the main entrance Spandrel panels and other ornamental elements are terra cotta from Gladding, McBean in California There are three projecting bays of cast iron, the curved bays at the corner and on the James Street facade, and the angled bay above the main entrance

The building reflects a mix of Victorian and Romanesque Revival influences The facades, with vertical pilasters and horizontal belt courses creating a grid, reflect Victorian compositional strategies Details such as the round arches over groups of windows and the arched main entrance and corner entrance are Romanesque Revival elements

The exterior walls are load-bearing, as is the firewall that extends through the building from the street to the alley The interior structure is cast iron columns and steel beams supporting timber joists As was typical practice in the period, the office floors were designed and built with permanent partitions forming 185 office rooms—a tenant would simply rent one or more office rooms Light is provided to the interior through two atria—one in the center of the south portion of the building, the other in the north portion of the building

Constructed at a cost of over $250,000, the Pioneer Building was considered one of Seattle's finest post-fire business blocks It has always been highly visible, forming a portion of one side of Seattle's Pioneer Place Park

The Pioneer Building originally had a seventh floor tower room with a pyramidal roof located directly above the front entrance making the building 110 ft 34 m It was removed as a result of damage caused by the 1949 earthquake


The newly constructed building quickly became an important business location for downtown Seattle During the Klondike Gold Rush, in 1897, there were 48 different mining companies that had offices there Later on, during Prohibition, the Pioneer Building was the clandestine location of "Seattle's First Speakeasy"

The downtown area began to grow northward, prompting businesses to move in the same direction By the 1950s and '60s, the entire Pioneer Square district had fallen upon hard times Many of the buildings, which were barely 60 years old, sat empty and decaying, and were slated to be torn down and replaced with parking garages The Seattle Hotel was the first to be razed, which prompted the citizens to initiate a campaign to preserve the district The rest of the buildings were spared the wrecking ball, and Pioneer Square-Skid Road Historic District were listed on the National Register of Historic Places3 In 1977, the Pioneer Building was listed as a National Historic Landmark4 Included in the landmark listing were two elements of the city's post-fire rebuilding: a pergola that was built as a cable car waiting area in 1909, and the 1938 replica of a stolen Tlingit totem pole given to the city in 18995

Today, the Pioneer Building houses, among other things, Doc Maynard's Nightclub and Lounge, where one can buy tickets for the popular Seattle Underground Tour At the end of the tour, there is a gift shop, located fittingly in the building's ground-floor level

Several businesses and offices are also located inside, including The Olmsted Law Group PLLC, dePonce Immigration and Citizenship Law, Cost of Wisconsin miniature golf-course designers' Western Regional Office, and Henry's Bail Bonds

Current useedit

In December 2015, the Pioneer Building was purchased by workspace provider Level Office, which plans to renovate the building's interior to create private offices and co-working space for small businesses6


  1. ^ Pioneer Building Seattle at Emporis
  2. ^ "Pioneer Building" SkyscraperPage 
  3. ^ a b "Pioneer Building, Pergola, and Totem Pole" National Historic Landmark summary listing National Park Service Retrieved 2008-06-26 
  4. ^ a b National Park Service 2007-01-23 "National Register Information System" National Register of Historic Places National Park Service 
  5. ^ "NHL nomination for Pioneer Building, Pergola, and Totem Pole" PDF National Park Service Retrieved 2017-04-21 
  6. ^ Lerman, Rachel December 23, 2015, "Seattle’s latest co-working space will be historic Pioneer Building," The Seattle Times

Further readingedit

  • Andrews, Mildred Tanner, editor, Pioneer Square: Seattle's Oldest Neighborhood, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London 2005
  • Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, and Andersen, Dennis Alan, “After the Fire: The Influence of H H Richardson on the Rebuilding of Seattle, 1889-1894,” Columbia 17 Spring 2003, pages 7–15
  • Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, and Andersen, Dennis Alan, Distant Corner: Seattle Architects and the Legacy of HHRichardson, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London 2003
  • Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, and Andersen, Dennis Alan, “Meeting the Danger of Fire: Design and Construction in Seattle after 1889” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 93 Summer 2002, pages 115-126
  • Speidel, William C 1967 Sons of the Profits There's no business like grow business: the Seattle story, 1851-1901 Seattle: Nettle Creek Publishing Company p 78 ISBN 0-914890-00-X  hardcover; ISBN 0-914890-06-9 paperback
    Speidel provides a substantial bibliography with extensive primary sources

External linksedit

  • National Park Service: Seattle: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
  • Emporis Buildings: Pioneer Building, Seattle
  • Underground Tour official site - check here for schedule and prices
  • Summary for 606 1st AVE / Parcel ID 0939000150, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

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